MySQL Documentation Myths

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There are a few myths surrounding the MySQL documentation and how it works, and I thought I’d try and dispel some of those myths if I can. If you have any more questions or misunderstandings you want clarified, let me know. Myth:

MySQL Documentation is written by the developers.

Reality

MySQL Documentation is written by a dedicated team of writers with help and input from the developers. There are four main writers, Paul DuBois, Tony Bedford, Jon Stephens, and MC Brown (me!), plus our Team Lead, Stefan Hinz. All the documentation staff are employed full time for the sole purpose of writing documentation. Sure, some of us get involved in other things too, but that’s basically the nature of the job. Some of us simply cannot help ourselves.

Myth

Docs team members are just writers and have no technical expertise.

Reality

It’s tempting to come back with a rude response to this one, but it is a comment I heard from someone at a conference. The reality is that all of us have some technical background, unsurprisingly often with MySQL. Some of us have expertise elsewhere too. Speaking only for myself, go look at MCslp.com for more info. If you want details, feel free to ask, but know that this myth is definitely busted.

Myth

The documentation is updated very rarely.

Reality

Our main tree, mysqldoc, is publicly available, and if you want to go view the commits to that tree, please feel free. It doesn’t take much to see that we commit to that tree all day, and every time we change something, the documentation gets rebuilt. How frequently? Well, on a typical day we will generate 10-15 new versions of each reference manual. It’s actually difficult to rebuild more frequently than that due to the sheer size of the documentation. If you want to check the build date of the documentation, check the intro/preface of each document. The build and build date information is included there.

Myth

The MySQL documentation is small and unused.

Reality

You’d be amazed how many people need to be told RTFM, but a surprising number of people who criticize the MySQL documentation have actually never read it, or, they looked at it years ago and haven’t bothered to look recently because they couldn’t find what they were looking for before.The reality is that our documentation is over 2000 pages per reference manual, which means over 10,000 pages now just for MySQL. There are hundreds more pages on the GUI tools, Workbench, Cluster/NDBAPI, and the Enterprise Monitor.As to the popularity, the hits to the online pages of our manual exceed the hits to every other section of the MySQL website by a significant factor. For the downloadable formats we get an average of 200,000 downloads in all the various formats each month, with occasional spikes up to 800,000. For the online manuals, the documentation pages make up about 45% of all the traffic on mysql.com. Or to say it another way, we account for almost half of all the web traffic that MySQL receives, including downloads. In short, we have no shortage of interested readers.

Myth

Docs team don’t read comments

Reality

Actually, we all get an email each time you post a comment and all of us will read it, determine whether it is suitable, useful, or (occasionally) spam, and either ignore it, delete it, or comment on it accordingly. Often that will happen within minutes of your leaving the comment. If there’s a non-standard reply to your comment, you’ll get that too. Now, we are aware that the comments system has it’s faults. For one, we have one comment system for all the different versions of the manual, which means comments can be confusing and even misleading. We’re fixing that. We’re also trying to address the problem that some comments are really tips, while others are just plain comments and observations. Any other comments or criticisms, let us know. We may not be unaware of the problem, but if we know your pain we can do something about it.

Myth

Docs team don’t accept bugs or corrections

Reality

You can report a bug or correction to us using the standard bugs.mysql.com, or drop us an email to docs@mysql.com.

Myth

Docs are ‘closed source’

Reality

The docs are not closed source – you can download the DocBook XML and the files and tools required to build them (well, beyond the XML parsers, Perl, and other bits and pieces). You can get hold of the repos (via SVN), on the Tech Resources page. That said, we don’t allow anybody to commit changes, but see the response above for information on how to provide changes and fixes. Again this is something we are working to improve on.

Myth

MySQL Documentation is not distributable

Reality

This mostly comes out of the fuss around Debian dropping the man pages from their MySQL distributions You can see the description why here: MySQL Documentation and Debian/Ubuntu. The short answer is that it is a mis-understanding in our license for the documentation, which is not released under the same license as MySQL. You can provide documentation if you provide MySQL, but not on it’s own. The reason for this is that our documentation is updated so regularly that we want to ensure that we only get genuine, up to date, versions of our documentation out there. Trust me, do a search for MySQL and some term and you will find versions of the manual that are months, or even years out of date, which is no help to anybody. It’s about trying to make our documentation readable and usable and not misleading.


OK that’s enough myths busted today, but if you hear any more, or just have additional questions, feel free to ask.